The Foundation of a Car Maker Just Gave Big for Housing. What's Up With That?

Military Appreciation Month is almost over, but before it ends, we are pleased to find news that the General Motors Foundation is granting $1 million to Habitat for Humanity to fund multiple projects, including 11 new homes to house active military or veteran families.

Housing is a tough issue, and at least one big foundation, MacArthur, recently decided to wind down its work in this sector. At the same time, the Nonprofit Finance Fund's 2015 State of the Sector survey indicates that nonprofits see see housing as critical on the list of community needs, with the highest percentage of respondents citing housing above other community needs like employment and youth services. Add to this the lack of available housing in most communities and the difficulty with affordability that most Americans experience, and we have a national housing crisis on our hands.

Given all of these adverse conditions, it is good to see the GM Foundation doing something big on housing. This partnership is also going to fund the development of job training programs and connect U.S. military service members to those services. In other words, this project is taking a more comprehensive approach to the situationmaking sure that veterans not only have housing, but that they have jobs to help them sustain their housing.

Since its founding in 1976, the GM Foundation has focused its giving on U.S. charities, educational organizations, and global disaster relief efforts. The foundation has extended its support to Habitat for Humanity since 2013, when it provided a $1 million grant to help with neighborhood revitalization in 12 U.S. cities. The foundation also provided $500,000 to the organization in May 2013 to assist with cleanup, repairs and new construction efforts in five Texas counties following devastating tornadoes. 

In February of 2014, the GM Foundation gave an additional $400,000 to Habitat for Humanity Detroit in honor of former GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson. It also provided a $50,000 grant to Habitat for Humanity of Michigan to fund volunteer projects in various parts of the state, and to support operations of the Habitat State Support Organization.

In May 2014, the General Motors Foundation gave another $1.45 million to Habitat for Humanity. This money funded completion of ten new home builds and an array of neighborhood rehab projects in fifteen neighborhoods across the U.S.  

An important historical footnote here: After World War II, some large U.S. companies were at the forefront of efforts to create affordable housing for returning veterans. In the most famous example, MetLife bankrolled the construction of a vast middle income apartment complex in Manhattan, Stuyvesant Town.

Affordable housing has not been a high-profile priority of corporate philanthropy, but judging by the big guns behind Habitat for Humanity, it's a greater focus than you might think. Habitat says that two corporations give it over $10 million annually—Bank of America and Thrivent Financial. Three companies provide over $5 million every year—Dow, Valspar, and Whirlpool; and twelve other companies provide over $1 million annually. 

That's some serious support for America's top housing nonprofit. Meanwhile, as we've reported, several banks—most notably Wells Fargo—have upped their giving in this area, presumably as recompense for the way that their past irresponsible lending practices wiped out vast amounts of home equity and led to an epidemic of foreclosures, particularly among minority households. About a third of Habitat's top corporate donors are also financial companies. Does today's charity make up yesterday's greed? No, but it's something. 

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In the United States, Habitat's new projects aimed at veterans will take place in Tonawanda, NY; Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Flint, MI; Wentzville, MO; Detroit, MI; Columbia, SC; Charlotte, NC; and Los Angeles, CA. The $1 million GM grant will also support two international revitalization projects in Brazil and the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Nepal. 

Related: Why This Funder Invests Heavily in Habitat for Humanity